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African Tales Review by Kendra Fletcher

A Barefoot Collection
Gcina Mhlophe and Rachel Griffin
Barefoot Books
2607 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

When beautiful art and storytelling converge, lovely books that inspire children are born. Publisher Barefoot Books describes itself as "Celebrating Art and Story," and that's exactly the sense one gets when reading African Tales.

Traditional African stories have been carefully and lovingly compiled by South African author Gcina Mhlophe, an award-winning storyteller in her own right. The format is excellent: before each story, a short history of the country of origin is given, allowing the reader the opportunity to learn a bit of background and perhaps hear the story in a slightly clearer light.

In fact, African Tales begins with a brief and conversational history of the continent of Africa and includes a folk art map illustrating the geography of the land and countries. If you are looking to round out a unit study on Africa, African literature, or African storytelling, African Tales would be an excellent addition to your resources.

The stories included in African Tales are a mix of humor and tragedy, history and culture. Comprehensively, they are "Nolwandle, Girl of the Waves" (Namibia), "Makhosi and the Magic Horns" (Malawi), "Masilo and Mailonyana" (Lesotho), "The Great Hunter" (Swaziland), "Sea Wind (Senegal), "Ananse and the Impossible Quest" (Ghana), "The Story of the Wise Mother" (Sudan), and "Everything Changes, Everything Passes" (Ethiopia).

I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely artwork created by British artist Rachel Griffin. Much of it has a folksy fabric appliqué look, with photographs of real objects popping out here and there: shells, buttons, and beads. There are depictions of traditional African men and women, which means they are shirtless, so if that's a particular sensitivity in your family, you'll want to be aware.

I love my copy of African Tales and am enjoying sharing the stories with my young children. Even my high school boys have been known to chuckle over the antics of Ananse the spider as they've overheard the story being read aloud. That's the mark of a truly good book--young and old alike can find joy in its pages.

Product review by Kendra Fletcher, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June, 2010